Lawsuits against Vegas shooting victims may hinge on Department of Homeland Security

People visit a makeshift memorial for victims of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Oct. 16, 2017 | Associated Press file photo by John Locher, St. George News

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The unprecedented move from MGM Resorts International to sue hundreds of victims of last year’s mass shooting in Las Vegas using an obscure U.S. law never tested in court has been framed by the casino-operator as an effort to avoid years of costly litigation — but the legal maneuver may not play out that way.

The company is not seeking money in the lawsuits filed in at least seven states over the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Instead, it wants federal courts to declare that it has no liability to survivors or families of slain victims under a federal law enacted after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

People visit a makeshift memorial for victims of a mass shooting in Las Vegas, Oct. 6, 2017 | Associated Press file photo by John Locher, St. George News

MGM argues that the Oct. 1 shooting met two conditions of the law: it qualifies as an act of terrorism and federally certified security services were used at the venue where 22,000 concertgoers were gathered as gunfire rained down from the company’s Mandalay Bay casino-resort.

But experts believe legal resolutions won’t come quickly because appeals are practically guaranteed and a U.S. court may not be the appropriate entity to determine whether the shooting is considered terrorism. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Friday that the law authorizes its leader to make that declaration.

MGM’s lawsuits target victims who have sued the company and voluntarily dismissed their claims or have threatened to sue after a gunman shattered the windows of his hotel suite and fired on a crowd of country music fans. Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured hundreds more before killing himself.

MGM is invoking the Support Anti-terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act of 2002, enacted to urge development and use of anti-terrorism technologies by providing companies a way to limit liability if their federally certified products or services fail to prevent a terrorist attack. After 9/11, manufacturers and others were concerned they could be sued out of business after an attack.

The law has never been used to avoid liability after mass violence, such as the shooting at a Colorado movie theater in 2012, because previous attacks haven’t involved services or products certified by Homeland Security. The department has only approved about 1,000 services and technologies, including airport screening equipment and stadium security.

An American flag waves near a police barricade on the Las Vegas Strip with the MGM Grand hotel and casino in the background after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Oct. 2, 2017 | Associated Press file photo by Ronda Churchill, St. George News

MGM said in the lawsuits filed in Nevada, California, Utah and other states that its security vendor for the outdoor concert venue, Contemporary Services Corp., was federally certified.

The Department of Homeland Security said in response to MGM’s lawsuits that its secretary “possesses the authority to determine whether an act was an ‘act of terrorism'” under the law in question, and it “has not made any such determination regarding the Route 91 Harvest Festival mass shooting incident.”

The agency says it’s reviewing the matter. The law broadly defines it as an unlawful act that harms a person in the U.S. and “uses or attempts to use” weapons or other methods that can cause mass destruction.

MGM says Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is not the only one with authority to make the call and that her public statements “make clear” the attack meets the law’s requirements.

The company’s argument is “far too broad of an interpretation of the statute. It should be fairly clear that what MGM did is not what was intended in the statute,” said Brian Finch, a partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman in Washington D.C. “It is (the secretary’s) responsibility, not that of a judge.”

CSC’s general counsel, James Service, said the company doesn’t comment on litigation.

MGM faced immediate backlash over the lawsuits this week, and it insisted in tweets and statements that it is trying to expedite resolutions for the victims. It stressed that it is “not asking for money or attorney’s fees” and directed the complaints “only at people who have already sued us or have threatened to sue us.”

“We are seeking justice through the federal court system in order to reach a timely resolution. We want to resolve these cases quickly, fairly and efficiently,” spokeswoman Debra DeShong said on MGM’s Twitter account.

Victims’ attorneys and a legal scholar told The Associated Press that the company’s strategy won’t speed up anything.

Alfred Yen, associate faculty dean and professor at Boston College Law School, said the law is not perfectly clear, and unless the parties settle, the matter could reach the U.S. Supreme Court because whoever loses is likely to appeal.

“This is a high-stakes, controversial case. A court would be very careful not to rush to a judgment on this,” Yen said. “It is going to take a long time for a court to decide the merits of this case.”

Written by REGINA GARCIA CANO, Associated Press.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • comments July 20, 2018 at 7:11 pm

    You know, I get it. If I had some family blasted up by a psychopath I’d prob be running around trying to sue everyone too. This is not something I’ve researched, but can someone explain to me why they believe MGM was negligent and why they should assume liability here? There’s no question (at least there should not be) that this was a terrorist attack. You lost family, you’re pissed and want to lay blame and get money out of it wherever you can–all that’s understandable. But why should the hotel be liable for the attack? I’m not gonna research it, but does anyone know right off hand?

    • comments July 20, 2018 at 7:14 pm

      Maybe they’ll have to have TSA set up at every hotel entrance. Last time I was at the airport I got fondled pretty bad by them. Now I can look forward to that at vegas hotels maybe? well, at least they used gloves so I don’t have there bare hands fondling me. That would be… not good. hahahah 😉

  • DRT July 20, 2018 at 8:07 pm

    I’m more inclined to think the ambulance chasers have contacted these folks and encouraged them to sue.

  • General Seamstress July 20, 2018 at 9:04 pm

    They r surely chasing the wrong duck. There should be a terrorist fund maybe thru fema but I’m more interested in his working cause. He must have really hated country folk OR he was making a statement and thought it would b obvious…. I’m guessing he was getting back at the concert venue owners maybe? Someone big owed him big. ( in his mind ).

  • utahdiablo July 20, 2018 at 9:41 pm

    This Tragic event happened at MGM’s location, as they hosted the event, they are still liable….

    • John July 20, 2018 at 9:55 pm

      Does that mean you would be liable if some jerk started shooting your neighbors from your roof?

    • comments July 20, 2018 at 10:16 pm

      explain the logic of how they are liable for a terrorist attack? A lot of you nutters around here support being able to take your little guns any place you desire, whether it be schools or libraries, hotels, and pretty much everywhere. I don’t get the logic. Like if some loon/nutter took an assault rifle into walmart and started blasting the place up is walmart liable? I’m sure from this point on hotels might try to be a bit more aware of people bringing dozens of heavy suitcases up to their rooms, but really, I don’t see how the hotel is at fault.

      • statusquo July 21, 2018 at 8:05 am

        What appears as a lunatic response by MGM is actually a wise move in response to the hyper litigious culture we have allowed to evolve in our nation. What is obvious is that MGM did not hire the gunman nor were they aware of his motives. All they got out of him was a few dollars for a room and a lot of bad press. If the victims can imagine any reason to sue MGM, then MGM has the same recourse to go after those who would pursue them. Unfortunately, that’s the state of things in 2018.

        Tort reform would clean up a lot of this mess

        • comments July 21, 2018 at 10:25 am

          Yep, the whole thing, from the shooting in the first place, to people suing the hotel afterwards is just a result of a society that’s gone insane. Not sure what can be done about it.

  • General Seamstress July 21, 2018 at 6:42 am

    Property insurance ding dong snowflake to help with hospital and burial, same as when someone gets bit, hit, etc by your neighbor on your property.. your insurance can later sue the neighbor but For now your covered.

    • comments July 21, 2018 at 2:52 pm

      I’d bet they’re suing for a hell of a lot more than hospital and burial costs–probly want millions a piece. what’s this about ding dongs and snowflakes? hmm

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